BY VALENTINE IGBONEKWU
In the light of recent events, our lips are forced to ask a singular question: what is the essence of our union? To better appreciate the gravity of emotions behind that question, summon the memory of the last time you failed at a task you’ve done over and over again forcing you to ask: what is the point of this? With that backdrop, let’s ask again: is there a point to our union given the results of our current predicament? A sigh of resignation or scowl of irritation should follow if you’re on track. However, let’s find an answer.
The concept of unionism arises consequent upon the urgent need to foster the interests of the members of a particular association. Thus, the fundamental rights to freedom of thought and expression, association, movement, personal liberty and dignity remain the live-wire of unionism. By logic, it is sensible for us to have a union. So sensible is the concept of unionism amongst students that it has existed since 1884. So we as students of the Premier University should never be apologetic for our existence as an organization interested in the protection of its interest.
Despite the aforementioned, this does not change the fact that it seems that when our union moves one retaliatory foot forward, the consequence is a moonwalk back to our former position; so much so that our struggle has neither changed nor grown.
So if the problem is not in having a union in the first place, then it implies that anyone who proffers a solution that there should be no union of students in the university system, as students should rely solely on the directives of the school management, has been wrong since 1884. Thus, if you have a problem with a result, examine the tactics employed to achieve that result. Our tactics rest in the womb of the latin maxim: aluta continua Victoria ascerta, the rallying cry that originated from the mouth of Samora Machel against Portuguese colonial presence; the rallying cry of any protest. Does this mean that the solution to our problems is – no protest? Obviously not! Protest is to UI as blood is to man. The 1962 nation-wide student demonstration was championed by the University of Ibadan students, against the signing of the Anglo/Nigerian Defence Pact. Through their concerted peaceful demonstration, the students were able to get the post-independence Nigerian government to drop the idea of signing a defence pact with Britain. Yet today, we cannot successfully fight for power or water supply in our halls of residence within our campus. So, what should we be doing differently?
Our first recourse is nicely displayed in an article by a student of our own University, ‘Kunle Adebajo titled Redefining the Concept of Campus Aluta. He states that school administrators are so used to our methods of unionism that they have mastered the art of quelling these methods. Hence, he proposes inter alia, that we grow to our “technological reality” by heavily (not lightly) employing the use of social media tools. Even the President of the National Union of Students in the UK pointed out in a 2010 interview with the BBC, that creating awareness through social media was an important tool in the struggle against increment in fees.
The writer also astutely points out the wisdom in utlising the media to our advantage. The management seems to have perfected this tactic to a point where retaliatory moves by students are reported by the media, in a manner that conjures up an image of a bunch student with high sentiments and hormones simply throwing tantrums like spoilt brats. We must realize that media houses are our friends and have the power to announce correctly our image and the intellectual intention behind our struggle; depicting to the world that we are mature in the management of our situation. In our century, social media is a potent weapon that can cause irreparable damage than whipping the buttocks of a professor.
Second, we need information; lots of it! Sometimes as students we consciously choose to forget that the Students’ Union is not only an Aluta fighting machine but also a conduit pipe between the management and students. So often, I have been in protests where most students do not know the surrounding circumstances leading up to the protest. I ask a student “why are you protesting?” he replies and says “The school is always cheating us”. I ask back “yes, but what happened?” he replies, clearly irritated, “baba, leave that one, if you no wan protest, go hide for your room like woman, you dey ask wetin happen as if say you no be Uite!” It is this lack of a united front that affects our ability to be taken seriously. This means we can even stop a protest from ever occurring if students are constantly kept up to date on the status of a problem and the surrounding circumstances. It is the job of the students’ union to source out information through any lawful means possible; to make the management understand that it is the right of students to be kept abreast with the reasons for a problem and the progress being made. When you leave students in the dark, they’ll leave the dark in violence with any untruthful light they find. This is the fundamental task of a union to be a bank of information.
My understanding of our union finds expression beyond the words stated above. I believe that our union should be solution-based and not problem-ridden for we pay not for problems but for solutions.
I choose not to run in circles. Let the solutions to out problems be consolidated.
PS: Valentine is a student activist at the University of Ibadan and intends to run for a post in the Student Union.